Atchafalaya Basinís 14-inch minimum a relic that should go
One of the very first outdoor stories I wrote was about the devastation of the Atchafalaya Basin by Hurricane Andrew, and how a new 14-inch limit had been implemented with the hopes of bringing that huge overflow swamp back to full health.
LDWF intentions were for the regulation to expire after two years, the time necessary to guarantee a quality spawn and give the bass fishery a boost.
Bass anglers — particularly of the tournament variety — embraced the effort, daring to dream of a trophy fishery tucked in the triangle of Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Morgan City.
Precitably, as the two-year expiration date approached, tournament anglers howled at any suggestions that the regulation be removed. LDWF resolve weakened, and finally managers agreed to leave the size limit intact.
By then, I was working at the agency, and I remember sitting in the office of one of the fisheries biologist and hearing how the limit was worthless in the uncontrolled wildness of the Basin. This veteran biologist said there was nothing in scientific literature that showed a minimum size limit would work on a riverine system.
He said the Basin was just too unpredictable to sustain growth rates. High-river stages expanded habitat, while drought years resulted in stagnant backwaters unable to support life.
And tropical systems that are an inevitable part of life along the Gulf Coast regularly stirred up the entire system, sucking oxygen out of the water and turning fish belly up.
He scoffed at the biological value of the move.
And yet 20 years later, Atchafalaya Basin anglers — including yours truly — still have to release any bass that misses that magical 14-inch mark.
Still, many tournament anglers swear it’s the best thing that has happened to the Basin, while those of us who (gasp) like to eat bass grind our teeth after releasing dozens of 13 7/8-inch bass — sometimes without catching a single keeper.
So who’s right? Well, an LDWF study released in early October seems to side with those who destest the 14-inch minimum.
In an open letter, the agency’s Mike Walker said their study indicates "the regulation does not produce bigger bass."
Even more stunning is that the study apparently shows the Basin and its adjacent waters currently covered by the regulation "will just not allow" success of a 14-inch minimum in terms of growing big bass.
This doesn’t mean the regulation is being dropped. In fact, Walker implied a decision will be made in the slow, deliberate manner for which government is known. He said his agency plans the results of the study will be laid out in full to the public over the next few months.
But it sounds like there’s no reason to keep the outdated length minimum.
As buddy Ken Sherman told me, "If it’s not working, then it needs to go."
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